How can I take control of my appointment book when I don’t have a full book?

When first starting out in the nail industry it is tempting to say “yes” to every client who calls, no matter the time or day they request. But you’ll find if you let clients dictate your hours, you may become a slave to their demands and start resenting your clients and your job.

You can take control of your schedule by respecting your clients’ time by running on time and being at the salon when you say you will be there. Time yourself and find out truthfully how long it takes you to complete each service and book that amount of time for each service. Trying to force yourself to complete the service in an unrealistic amount of time that someone else has set for you might cause you to run behind. Clients assume you don’t respect their time when they have to wait past their appointment time. They might begin to show up to appointments late believing you won’t be on time anyway, guaranteeing that you will run late all day.

Another way to work toward running on time is to take classes on time-saving strategies. The more education and experience you get, the more efficiently you will complete the services and stay on time. Staying on time enables you to work the hours that you want to work instead of playing catch up all day and having to stay late.

It is not healthy to work yourself to the point of exhaustion and then collapse when you get home. Schedule breaks during your day when you need them, not when clients will allow it. One way to get little breaks during the day is to get your service times down to less than an hour each, but schedule your appointments every hour. Booking yourself an hour for a service that actually takes you 45 minutes gives you the time to clean up your work area, get up to stretch, use the restroom, return phone calls, etc., between clients. I also use this time to center myself before the next client arrives. We don’t really think of servicing so many different personalities as mentally taxing, but it is. Clients dump all their drama on us and then leave. We must then cleanse our pallet, so to speak, for the next client who wants a relaxing happy experience with no drama. We must do a complete 180-degree change in just a few minutes.

Have your work days and hours printed on your business card. Choose the days and hours that you want to work and be at the salon during those hours. Reliability is key to building an appointment book that you control. Clients recognize your professionalism when you maintain set salon hours. If you need to change your hours because your personal obligations have changed, post a note with the new hours at your station with a month’s notice. If the change needs to be made in less than four weeks, send out letters with the new hours and a short explanation.

How do I get control of an already full and totally out-of-control book?

The first and most important step is to decide that your needs, not the clients’ needs, come first. Putting yourself first is the hardest part of gaining control of your out-of-control schedule. Your schedule got out of control by having an extremely flexible schedule and a “the client comes first” attitude. Now you’re a slave to that client who always calls at the last minute. In the past you’ve always accommodated her, but the one time you say no, she has the nerve to get upset that you can’t do her nails! You created this monster and you have the power to tame her.

Start by deciding what days and hours you want to work. Schedule lunch breaks and start and finish times in ink. They’re written in ink so you can’t move them in a weak moment. Choose the hours and days you know your clients most want that also fit with your personal obligations. Try to be available during the most popular days and hours if possible. For example, if you are currently booking Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., it would not be a good idea to take this day off. You can set this day as an eight-hour day enabling you to make the most amount of money on a day that you know you can book solid every week. The key is to set your hours and days to make the most money in the amount of time you want to work.

Raising your prices will create space in your book enabling you to shorten your hours to a more reasonable work week. Raise your prices significantly enough to lose a few clients, but not too many. Determine the amount by finding out how much other salons in the area are charging. Do not charge more than the most expensive salon in town unless the most expensive salon in town is yours. Usually an increase of $3 to $5 per service will weed out about 10% of your clients. Set your new hours and stick to them. This will help with the remainder who need to be weeded out. The money you are losing by cutting your hours will be recouped by charging more for the hours that you do work.

Don’t go crazy. A hairdresser friend of mine hadn’t raised her prices in 15 years. When her daughter started law school she decided to raise her prices to match the prices that other salons in her area were charging. She had to double her hair cut price and triple her chemical services to meet the other salons’ prices. She lost 75% of her clients. This is an extreme example of what not to do. If you are in a similar situation, raise your prices $5 every year for the next several years until you’ve reached the amount you should be charging. You’ll also need to take a lot of classes and improve your services to justify the yearly price hike. Be sure you are worth what you are charging.

I’m too busy to take a vacation. I have to work so many hours before and after my vacation that it’s almost not worth it to take time off. What can I do?

Having a full book is great, except when you want a vacation. First use the previous tips to reduce your clientele to a workable number. Now schedule your vacation during slow times of the year to make it easier to keep workable hours before and after your vacation. We all have those slow times, but we don’t always pay attention to the fact that these slow times have a pattern. By looking at last year’s appointment book you’ll see when you were slow and you can take those days off next year. When you take vacation during slow times you have fewer clients to displace in order to get a full week off, making it possible to work eight- and nine-hour days before and after the vacation instead of 10- to 12-hour days that leave you exhausted. A coworker of mine who works part-time is able to take vacations without working more than two or three additional hours the week before and the week after her vacation.

A normal day off can also be used to play catch-up on vacation days. For example, I work Tuesday through Saturday. When I take a vacation I work eight hours on Monday and Tuesday, starting my vacation on Wednesday. I end my vacation on Wednesday of the following week. Taking half a week on each end is easier because clients’ appointments need to be moved only three or four days earlier or later than their usual schedule to accommodate them. This is important because we all have those clients who can go three-and-a-half weeks between fills but not four weeks. By not taking a Sunday through Monday vacation, clients’ nails are in better condition when you return. Now you can work a fairly normal work week when you return.

The occasional long weekend and special day off is easier to take off if your schedule is under your control. I can easily take my husband’s and my birthdays off, as well as our wedding anniversary. I simply mark the date off and schedule clients around the family dates. Discipline on my part to take care of myself first allows me to have better balance between my work and home schedules.

Remember the fairy tale about the goose who laid the golden egg? You are the goose in this story. Take very good care of yourself and you will have a long and profitable career. Taking control of your appointment book is the first step in taking care of yourself. Just imagine looking forward to going to the salon because you know this will be a fun and profitable day. How much better will it be not to be exhausted and drained when you get home? Take charge of your schedule and enjoy both your career and your family.

A licensed nail tech for 22 years, Katherine Fahrig currently works at Nails at Panache in Creve Coeur, Mo. She has been a salon owner, nail competitor, and manufacturer’s educator.

KEYWORDS: business, question answer, overworked, organization, raising prices

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